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Rebecca Charles on Bivalve Bliss: Swan Oyster Depot

Swan Oyster Bar Robin Jolin Sky August 2010

Photo by Robin Jolin

Local Miyagi oysters with cocktail sauce.

The Locale: 1517 Polk Street

The Scene:
Bring a magazine or a book, because there’s always a line (it’s worth the wait) at this historic Nob Hill restaurant that’s been serving oysters since 1912. Grab a seat at the narrow marble bar that’s likely to be littered with oyster crackers, hot sauce bottles and lemon slices. “The camaraderie between the brothers who own Swan’s is fun to watch and infectious, and it makes you feel great being there,” Charles says.

Aw, shucks: Pure, simple seafood is the focus, and each day at least four types of oysters shimmer with freshness, including buttery Kumamotos, elegant Beau Soleils and sweet, cucumber-flavored Olympias. Anchor Steam, the hometown beer, is freshly pulled and a perfect partner (wine lovers will appreciate Chabils and Muscadet by the glass). After oysters, consider lump crabmeat drenched in creamy Louie dressing with shredded iceburg lettuce, mixed seafood cocktail or cracked Dungeness crab.

The secret history: “The first time I went to Swan’s, I was contemplating my future,” Charles says. “I decided to take a week off and go on an eating trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley. I remember I took a taxi from the airport straight to Swan’s before I went to my hotel, and the minute I walked in, a light bulb over my head went on. I thought, ‘This is it! I can do something like this and focus on Maine.’ ”

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